We don’t just have to learn a new set of responsibilities when we start a new job…we also must learn to interact with a new set of colleagues and bosses. These people will form lasting opinions of us during our first few months on the job. If those opinions are unfavorable, it could affect our ability to earn promotions or even hold on to the job.
Ten things we can do during our first three months in a new workplace to foster a positive image…
1. Listen 10 times as much as you speak. It’s dangerous to talk a lot before you know the lay of the land in a new workplace. You might say something that reveals your lack of experience with the company, its products or its customers…or you might propose a plan that already has been tried unsuccessfully.
Listening is less dangerous and more useful. After three months of dedicated listening, you should know the company, your colleagues and your bosses well enough so that you can open your mouth without substantial risk of putting your foot in it. Until then, contribute to discussions mainly by asking intelligent questions.
2. Don’t challenge authority—even limited authority. It’s probably obvious to new employees that they shouldn’t question their boss’s or the CEO’s authority. But new employees often do question the authority of those who are not above them in the corporate hierarchy—for example, the office manager who denies them the office supplies they want or the security guard who says they must sign in each time they enter until a permanent ID is issued.
Resist the urge to argue with such coworkers during your first three months. People who have very little power often jealously guard the power they do have. Questioning their authority could create an enemy who could be more dangerous than you realize—for example, if it turns out this low-level employee has the ear of a top executive.
3. Ignore offensive remarks. If someone says or does something you consider offensive during your early months in a new workplace, just let it go. If you make waves, others in the organization might conclude that you’re someone who imagines or overreacts to slights.
Exceptions: Speak up if the offensive comments or actions recur…or if the offensive comment suggests that the speaker might try to hinder your career.
4. Don’t say you need something unless you absolutely do. Employers can become frustrated with a new employee who acts as if the company is there to serve his/her needs rather than the other way around. Each time you tell your new employer that you need something—even something minor such as a better desk chair, a particular brand of pen or an afternoon off—the more likely the employer is to conclude that you put yourself ahead of the company.
If there’s something that you absolutely require to be productive, it’s OK to request it—but don’t make more than one or two of these requests in your first three months, and be sure to phrase these as requests, not “needs.”
5. Don’t suggest or implement changes right off the bat. Long-standing employees sometimes resent newcomers who think they know better from the moment they walk through the door. Besides, the changes new employees suggest often are flawed because new employees don’t yet fully understand why things are done the way they are.
Example: A man hired to run a government agency tasked with distributing money to other agencies decided to stop sending money to recipient agencies that filed their paperwork improperly. He thought this would spur those agencies into filing correctly. He didn’t understand that cutting off these funds meant Americans who relied on government aid would not be able to pay their rent or buy food. He was fired.
6. Steer clear of complainer colleagues. In many workplaces, there are employees who moan and complain continually. Avoid these people as if they have the plague, especially during your first three months in a new job. If you spend time with them, you might be considered one of them.
Make excuses for why you can’t lunch or socialize with complainers, and politely excuse yourself as soon as possible when they approach you in the office to chat. If your boss is a complainer, you might listen as a courtesy, but don’t join in.
7. Observe colleagues carefully to learn the unwritten rules and behavioral norms of your new workplace. Run afoul of an unwritten rule, and you might be viewed as someone who doesn’t fit in.
Example: Early in my career, I worked in an office where employees often loosened their neckties, so I did, too. I failed to note that they tightened up their ties before meetings with senior partners. When I didn’t tighten my tie before such a meeting, a senior partner grabbed it and angrily tightened it for me.
8. Put in longer hours than your boss. Arrive early, take a short lunch and stay late. If your boss and other colleagues see you at your post when they arrive and leave, you will develop a reputation as a committed employee. If you’re not present just a few times when your boss seeks you out during your first three months, you could develop a reputation as a slacker.
Working long hours even can earn you face time with the company’s top executives, who often work long hours themselves. My daughter Jamie rode the elevator with the CEO when she arrived at 7:00 am on one of her first days at a new job. From then on, the most powerful person in the company recognized her and associated her with early arrival.
If you’re a worker who is paid by the hour and limited to a certain number of hours, find a way to devote additional efforts to your job without requesting additional payment.
9. Don’t discuss lofty career goals with colleagues. Your plans for fast advancement might make you seem like a threat to colleagues or even bosses who have their eyes on the same promotions. Besides, talking about promotions when you haven’t yet shown you can excel in your current position could make you seem cocky or unrealistic.
10. Treat every colleague as a potential future best friend. Be polite, gracious and friendly with everyone you meet in your new workplace. Introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Act very pleased to see every colleague whose path you cross. Smile.
If people in your new organization decide that they like you personally, they will be more inclined to agree with your opinions and see you as a productive employee.